For the Adherent of Pop Culture

The Prisoner

Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

The Prisoner: The Uncertainty Machine (Part 1) The Prisoner
"The Uncertainty Machine" Part 1
The Prisoner: The Uncertainty Machine #1
Titan Comics
Writer: Peter Milligan
Original plot: David Leach
Artist: Colin Lorimer
Colorist: Joana Lafuente
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Cover: Mike Allred
June 2018


Agent Breen of MI5 has a plan to free another agent friend from the Village.


Notes from the Prisoner chronology


The beginning of the issue informs the reader that it is the 21st Century.


Characters appearing or mentioned in this issue


Agent Breen


chess man

Agent Carey




Simon Maggs (last name revealed in "The Uncertainty Machine" Part 2)



Didja Know?


The Titan Comics version of The Prisoner is a comic book mini-series reimagining of the classic 1967 TV series of the same name.


The covers of each issue of this mini-series state the series title only as The Prisoner, but the indicia inside each issue indicates the actual series title is The Prisoner: The Uncertainty Machine.


The title of this mini-series, The Uncertainty Machine, may have been borrowed from the NIST Uncertainty Machine web-based software application developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.


In this comic book series, Number 6 is an MI5 agent named Breen. His likeness is nothing like that of the unnamed Number 6 played by Patrick McGoohan in the 1967 TV series. However, a number of the variant covers of the series depict McGoohan in homage to his role.


Each issue of the series had the issue number on the cover within the wheel of the penny-farthing symbol of the Village, like the badges most of the Village inhabitants wear to identify their assigned number.


Each issue credits The Prisoner as created by Patrick McGoohan and George Markstein. They created the classic 1967 TV series.


The slogan presented at the beginning of each issue is "Information is Power". 


Variant Cover Three of this issue is artwork by the late Jack Kirby (1917-1994), borrowed from the art he drew for the aborted 1977 Marvel Comics adaptation of The Prisoner. You can read the first six pages of Kirby's adaptation (inked and lettered by Mike Royer) at the Internet Archive page of the Red Circle. Jack Kirby cover


One of the exclusive covers of this issue is based on the cover art of The Prisoner audio drama CD Volume 1 released by Big Finish Productions. The audio series is a remake of the classic 1967 TV series. Studies of the excellent audio drama can be found at PopApostle on the Prisoner - Big Finish page.




Didja Notice?


The beginning of the issue informs the reader that the Village is a place where the most valuable information in the world is mined. The Village is aligned to no one political system or state, an autonomous institute, free of state manipulation. The identity of its controller, Number 1, is unknown.


As the story opens, MI5 agent Breen is escaping from a Chelsea safe house that turned out to not be so safe. Chelsea is an affluent neighborhood of South West London.


On page 2, Breen wonders if his pursuers already know about Pandora.


On page 2, panel 4, Breen is seen to be buckling his belt as he flees down the street from his pursuers after jumping from the second story window of the safe house while thinking to himself, "A good MI5 agent shouldn't be caught with his trousers down." Since he seems to be otherwise fully-dressed, it seems likely he was sitting on the toilet when his pursuers busted into the safe house. MI5 is the UK's domestic counter-intelligence agency, more formally known as Military Intelligence, Section 5; later in this issue, it's revealed Breen worked for a department of MI5 called the Unit. The Unit is fictitious as far as I can tell.


On page 3, Breen is seen walking into King's Cross railway station.


Also on page 3, Breen mentions the book The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. This is a 1963 spy novel by British author John le Carré, set during the Cold War.


Breen sees the headline of the Evening Standard on page 3, featuring his photo: "TRAITOR: HIGH RANKING SPY BETRAYS COUNTRY".


On page 5, as Breen knocks out a man playing chess by himself in the men's room, he says, "Zugzwang!" Zugzwang is a German term meaning "compulsion to move", used in chess when a player has no choice but to make a move that will only worsen their position.


In the last panel of page 5, Breen hops into a cab and asks to be taken to City Airport.


On page 6, Breen describes the accent of his new identity as having a hint of Hibernian. "Hibernian" is an affectionate term relating to Ireland.


Also on page 6, Breen muses on having turned from one of his unit's most trusted agents to "the bastard son of a Philby or Blake". Kim Philby (1912-1988) and George Blake (1922-2020) were British agents who were actually double agents for the Soviet Union. 


Breen travels to Tuscany, where he owns a cottage, on page 6. Tuscany is a region of Italy. He muses that he has occasionally rented the cottage out on Airbnb. The exterior depicted is much more than what most people would consider a cottage! Tuscany cottage


McGoohan and McKern On page 7, Breen hallucinates images of chess pieces, a penny-farthing, and images of Number 6 and Number 2 as portrayed by Patrick McGoohan and Leo McKern, respectively, in the 1967 TV series. Oddly, Number 6 appears to have two different-colored eyes here.


On page 8, Agent Carey inventories an audio drill, microdot cam, encoder pods, Hydra-Shok, and two Beretta M9s. These are all real objects that could be useful in the spy field. Most are fairly self-explanatory. Hydra-Shok is a type of hollow-point bullet.


Page 8 reveals that Breen and Carey had a sexual relationship in the recent past.


On page 9, Breen mentions ISIS. ISIS is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a Salafi jihadist militant group designated a terrorist organization by the United Nations.


Also on page 9, Breen muses that the men who pursued him and Carey carried H&K rifles. H&K is likely a reference to Heckler & Koch, a German weapons manufacturer.


On page 12, the Unit section chief refers to Le Grand K having been stolen "two years ago". Le Grand K is a nickname given to the International Prototype of the Kilogram, a platinum alloy object that was used to define the exact mass of a kilogram established in 1889 by international accord. It is stored in a vault in Paris as described here. The theft described here is fictitious, having apparently been orchestrated by agents of the Village. In May 2019, a new definition of the kilogram was established based on physical constants instead.


    The Unit section chief also tells Breen that Einstein's brain was recently stolen from the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. The Mütter Museum has only ever had microscope slides of small slices of the brain; the rest of the preserved portions of the brain are in the care of the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland.

    The image in panel 4 of page 12 of a shelf of human skulls with a gap on the shelf marked with a small V (for Village) is seemingly meant to indicate the stolen brain, but the preserved brain was no longer in Einstein's skull in the first place! During Einstein's autopsy, the brain was removed and cut into several sections and preserved in alcohol in jars.


The section chief remarks that in all its "known" history, only one agent has ever escaped from the Village and that agent went mad.


On page 15, Breen visits his usual pub in Portobello. There are a few Portobellos this could refer to. The most well-known one is probably the Portobello area of Dublin, Ireland.


To get into the isolated government installation in Scotland on page 17, Breen uses the code 21.04.26, the queen's birthday. Queen Elizabeth II was born on that day.


The design of the Village and Number 6's cottage as presented here is essentially the same as that in the 1967 TV series.

Unanswered Questions

Are the hallucinogenic images of Number 6 and Number 2 as portrayed by Patrick McGoohan and Leo McKern on page 7 meant to be taken seriously? They do not return in this four-issue mini-series. Is it meant to indicate a history of the Village that once included these two individuals as depicted in the 1967 TV series?

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